Carnegie Mellon computational biologist Russell Schwartz receives prestigious CAREER award

06/09/04

PITTSBURGH--Carnegie Mellon University computational biologist Russell Schwartz has received the National Science Foundation's prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. The five-year grant recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century, according to the National Science Foundation.

Schwartz, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the Mellon College of Science, received the $838,000 award in support of his research on developing computational methods for modeling biological systems at the cellular scale. By creating computer programs that simulate how complex biological systems work, Schwartz can manipulate variables in ways that would not be practical or possible in a living system.

Specifically, Schwartz plans to develop a computer model of self-assembly within cells. Self-assembly systems consist of potentially thousands of simple biological subunits that assemble into larger structures, such as enzyme complexes, ribosomes, cell membranes and viruses. By modeling the chemical reactions that occur among individual molecules, Schwartz hopes to develop a more complete and accurate simulation of complex cell systems.

Schwartz plans to apply this model to study how viruses assemble inside infected cells. This research will lead to a deeper understanding of the mechanisms that control chemical reactions on a small scale and the means by which one can manipulate them, according to Schwartz. Using the model, researchers could identify promising drugs that interfere with virus assembly before they begin testing the drugs in the laboratory. This process could accelerate the discovery of drugs tailored to specific targets so that they would be selective only for certain problems and unlikely to cause system-wide side effects inside the body.

The grant also will support his efforts to develop novel strategies to teach advanced methods for biological modeling and simulation, as well as to prepare a more general biology audience to take advantage of available computational tools.

CAREER awardees are selected on the basis of creative career-development plans that effectively integrate research and education within the context of their institution's mission.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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